Twelve years ago this month, Pat Tillman died in Sperah Afghanistan on one of several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was a remarkable person and a great American patriot.
Pat grew up in San Jose California and received a scholarship to Arizona State in 1994. Small in stature for a linebacker, he made up for it with conditioning and determination. His team made it to the Rose Bowl and in 1997 he was voted PAC-10 Defensive Player of the Year. Academically, Pat majored in marketing and graduated in three and a half years with a 3.85 GPA.
He then played safety for the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL from 1999-2002, with great success.
He was also a person of great loyalty and never let money get in the way of his priorities.
At one point, he turned down a $9 Million offer from the Saint Louis Rams out of loyalty to the Cardinal organization and his teammates.
In May 2002, eight months after 9/11, Pat turned down a $3.6 Million offer from the Cardinals to enlist with his brother Kevin in the US Army. (Kevin also gave up a promising career in baseball to join his brother.) They completed basic training together and were deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In 2003 Pat received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award from ESPN as part of that years’s ESPY Awards ceremony.
In September 2003, Kevin and Pat entered the elite Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia.
From there Pat was deployed to Afghanistan. As evidence of his true patriotism, Tillman continued serving even though he came to oppose the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld wars. He died in Afghanistan in April 2004.
Pat left behind two brothers, his parents Mary and Patrick, and his wife Marie. His family worked tirelessly to get to the truth about what actually happened to him.
The circumstances of Pat’s death eventually were determined to be the result of friendly fire, but the US Army tried to cover up the truth for several years in one of the most disgraceful episodes of the war. In 2009, the talented author Jon Krakauer wrote a detailed book on that coverup: Where Men Win Glory. Kevin testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, stating: “The deception surrounding Pat’s case was an insult to the family; but more importantly, its primary purpose was to deceive a whole nation. We say these things with disappointment and sadness for our country. Once again, we have been used as props in a Pentagon public relations exercise.” Acting Army secretary Pete Geren later stated: “We as an Army failed in our duty to the Tillman family…”
Pat’s death created an enduring outpouring of love and support from his teammates, the NFL, Arizona State and so many more. Here are just a few worth mentioning:
- The splendid Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge was completed in 2010 and named in his honor. It spans the Colorado River between Nevada and Arizona.
- There are now multiple annual Pat Tillman Runs in Arizona and California to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation and the Pat Tillman Military Scholars program. More than 10,000 turned out for the first run in 2006, and more recently that figure has increased to 28,000.
- The NFL donated the funds to build The Pat Tillman USO Center at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.
- Arizona State and the Arizona Cardinals retired his jersey with special honors. AS created a permanent PT-42 patch worn by their players on their uniforms.
- Arizona State created The Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza at their stadium
- The Pacific-10 Conference renamed its defensive player-of-the-year award for Pat.
- Leland High School, which Pat attended, renamed its football field after him.
- Pat was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Senator McCain, himself a war veteran and POW in Vietnam for over 5 years, delivered Pat’s eulogy at his memorial and I quote it here, in part:
“Many American families have suffered the same terrible sacrifice that the Tillman family now suffers. The courage and patriotism their loved ones exemplified is as fine and compelling as Pat’s, and their loss should grieve us just as much. Were he here, I think Pat would insist we cherish their memory and feel their loss no less than his. But it was his uncommon choice of duty to his country over the profession he loved and the riches and other comforts of celebrity, and his humility, that make Pat Tillman’s life such a welcome lesson in the true meaning of courage and honor.”
Amen. R.I.P Pat, knowing that you are remembered and revered as a great person and a great patriot. — Jim